When the Hudson was called the “North River”

Some Native Americans called it “Mahicannittuck,” or “place of the Mohicans.” Dutch explorers first named it Mauritius, in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau.

But the river we know today as the Hudson is labeled the “North River” on maps and in books from the 17th through 19th centuries, and in some cases well into the 20th century.

So who gave it the “North River” name, and why did it fall out of favor and become the Hudson?

A 1909 guidebook to the Hudson Fulton Celebration, honoring the anniversaries of the achievements of Henry Hudson and Robert Fulton, has this to say:

“The English more often gave it the name of the ‘North River,’ and by that name it is frequently called now. But the popular sense of justice came to call it ‘Hudson’s River,’ and that finally settled down to the ‘Hudson River.'”

However, other sources say it was the Dutch who called it the North River (the Delaware being the South River).

The name stuck well past the colonial era and was used interchangeably with Hudson River.

 By the 1900s, North River fell by the wayside, and if you call it that today in general conversation, most people will have no idea what body of water you’re talking about.

The North River name survives on a few contemporary maps though, like the Hagstrom street map, above, published in the 1990s. And of course, it lives on in vintage postcards.

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4 Responses to “When the Hudson was called the “North River””

  1. Bobby Says:

    Funny….I always called the Hudson the North River especially after reading Pete Hamils book MANHATTAN.
    P.S……..GREAT BOOK!

  2. Theresa Says:

    I wonder if a lot of New Yorkers forget, as I do, that the Hudson really is north of most points on Manhattan. Our maps usually show it as directly to the left. Of course it also runs parallel to West Street…

  3. Bob_in_MA Says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of research on NY during 1900-01 and it’s almost always referred to as the North River if it’s a reference to a pier, or a ferry, etc.

    I just searched the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for 1902 and all the Hudson River references seem to be for railroads and steamships going toward Albany.

    On the other hand, a 1902 map I have has it labeled as the Hudson. And I have an Appleton’s guide from 1903 that uses Hudson on its map, but usually North in the text. For instance, the entry fro Hudson River says “see North River”.

    I tried some searches at the LoC on NY papers for 1903 and both seem to be used for the lower Hudson, even in the same newspaper.

    The change must have occurred fairly quickly.

  4. Pat Scopelliti Says:

    When my grandfather settled in the United States, he, my grandmother and their two daughters (my mom and aunt) lived on a coal barge that plied the Hudson in the early 1930s. My mother always referred to the Hudson as the North River until she passed in 1998.

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